Air purifiers, BOE “entitlements,” academic goals, deleting committee meetings and dismissing Choates addressed at BOE work session

Published 1:42 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

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The Sumter County Board of Education spent over four hours on 2.7 to address items which may go to vote for Thursday’s 2.10 voting meeting. The meeting started out with several presentations to include two companies who presented multi-million-dollar proposals to install air filtration systems for the Sumter County Schools. Some of the units were referred to as “confidence units” as their mere appearance would psychologically put minds to rest. After much discussion there are several elements that would require ongoing purchases to make them work as they are designed. In addition, the noise of the units is directly correlated to the effectiveness of the product. The more effective the product, the louder the machines are, bringing the teaching environment into question.

School board retreat, awards for the board, exterior cleaning of Sumter Middle School and use of the Americus-Sumter High School and the Ninth Grade Academy were discussed. Superintendent Walter Knighton then reviewed the College and Career Ready Performance Index. This index gives a picture of the academic standing of the SCS. Knighton reviewed things which would not be measured, some of which are attendance and career readiness. If a school does not make the mark compared with other schools in the state, the state will provide additional supports. Schools ranking in the lowest 5-10% will be identified as needing additional support. At the end of the conversation, Carolyn Hamilton added the students will be tested on English language arts, math and social studies. It was also established that there will be no re-testing and a minimum of 95% of the students must take the test. In closing, Hamilton states the goal as “we just want to make sure we aren’t in the bottom ten percent.”

Moving on, Abbis Bivins brought up her “entitlement” to supplies to complete her job as a school board member. She states, “I didn’t receive anything to help me with this position. To my understanding we are entitled to cell phone, laptop, tablets or what we need to do our assignment—even a printer.” She then said the least of what she wanted was a cell phone. Bivins reports not wanting to “mix our personal business up with our school business.” When other board members were questioned on their desire for cell phones, no one mentioned the need. She added once again she felt she was entitled to such by stating, “It’s not nothing we need to vote on, that’s what we’re entitled to.” She then went on to present the argument “That if the people we are over have cell phones, we should also.” Bivins was asked more than once what exactly she wanted out of the equipment she mentioned, and she once again answered, “whatever we’re entitled to.” Then she stated she wanted a cell phone. She followed with, “We all know if something happen, they get our cell phone, so why not just give us a school district phone?” It should be noted any elected official’s communication in regard to their elected position is subject to open records laws of Georgia, and it makes no matter if the device used is personally owned or provided by a tax funded entity.  With no input from other BOE members, the meeting moved on.

The next topic was also lengthy. The topic was brought for discussion by Carolyn Hamilton. She introduced the topic by saying she wasn’t allowed to attend committee meetings she was not on. In the name of transparency “all board members should get the same information” and committees be cut out altogether. There are six committees for the BOE. Each BOE member chairs a committee and reports to the board at large if there are any items which require a vote. Hamilton states there might be more information to be had and cutting out committee meetings will allow for more questions. While three of the committee meetings are approximately an hour, the other three can very often be three hours in length. These committee meetings allow the members to cull through information and bring the best determinations and most concrete information to the board members. Additionally, every board member may attend any and all committee meetings just as any citizen can. If the committee meetings are deleted all together it is within the full realm of possibility that a board meeting could easily take 6-7 hours. Additionally, without any determined path to take prior to the meeting, it could take considerably longer for any vote to be taken as often there is research of some form which needs to take place. While Roland and Barnes presented the obvious negative sides of deleting committee meetings, Bivins and Kearse were quick to agree with Hamilton’s deletion of committee meetings. Harris did not voice an opinion. This item will also be voted upon this Thursday.

After coming out of executive session the BOE had to make some decisions about signing off on construction work being completed, although in actuality it has not been completed. To sign off on the work as complete will allow the state to pay towards the building of the high school. There is also an unspoken agreement the work will be finished and the only reason it is not currently completed is due to situations outside of the contractor’s control. This will also go to a vote on Thursday.

Lastly, without much knowledge of what the item was about, Abbis Bivins again presented another request. This time she wanted the Sumter County High School’s dedication plaque to be redone. She reports that “Choates” (Dr. Torrance Choates who was superintendent for six years until August 2021) should have his name removed to the bottom of the dedication plaque as he was not superintendent when the high school opened. Bivins also wanted Walter Knighton’s name added to the dedication plaque. Barnes attempted to explain the purpose of a dedication plaque however she still wanted the changes made. Kearse attempted to tell Bivins the cost of the already hanging plaque which she would not allow him to do and dismissed the cost as something that did not affect the children. Changing the dedication plaque will be voted upon Thursday night. The Sumter County High School was dedicated on August 5, 2021. Dr. Choates informed the board he would not seek renewal of his contract once it was completed in June of 2022 on August 12, 2021. By mutual agreement the BOE and Dr. Choates parted ways that evening with only Bivins voting against the agreement. Due to construction not being completed on the high school, high school students participated in a virtual education until September. Dr. Choates,  Dr. Mike Busman, Jimmy Skipper, Paul V. Hall and Alex Saratsiotis are pictured on June 11, 2017, when the Board of Education purchased the land the Sumter County High School sits upon. Dr. Choates is but one of a rare few who saw the high school from conception to reality.

The voting meeting will be held this Thursday 2.10 at 7pm. This meeting and past meetings are archived on The Sumter County Schools Facebook page. If you have concerns over the voting items, please contact your BOE member. Their contact information can be found on the Sumter County Schools website.